A critic begins writing about music because he is passionate about music. He wants, and lets just call it a "he", he wants to spread the word about smaller bands that are struggling and puncture a few bloated dinosaurs while he's at it. His enthusiasm for his work and clarity of intention leads to success. The music critic helps discover bands. The music critic helps shape popular interest in music. The music critic solidifies his standing by breaking the boundary between subject and artist: interviews bands, conducts festivals, and develops sources within record labels so as to be able to break news, host exclusive content and rub elbows with insiders.
The music critic becomes successful, and through the conventions and demands of that success, destroys that which made him relevant. The bands he once championed become the bloated dinosaurs, but having developed personal relationships with the bands, and having benefited professionally from those personal relationships, loyalty develops. A loyalty only a sociopath or an ubermensch could completely escape. The corruption, and it is corruption, makes the critic hard, cynical and the enthusiasm and wide-eyed passion he once sought and publicized emerging artist with diminishes. His profile, history, guilt, publicity and notoriety breeds self awareness, and that awareness forces him to second guess his opinions.
That's an extended metaphor, but it's also a bit of a cautionary tale. It's something I have thought about, both about others, and myself and my future as a football writer. Unlike the average music critic, I presume, I don't want to be a professional athlete (as many music critics would rather be musicians), never really aspired to be a professional athlete and do not even want to be close to and hang out with professional athletes. To wit: I am not a jock sniffer. As lame or unambitious as it might seem, I like to write and I like sports and I like to write about sports, and though I miss some content by not pursuing access and though I cap or at least delay my legitimacy by not pursuing access, I can not resolve how I can develop human relationships with players and stay, at least to the best of my ability, impartial.
Last year, Brandon Mebane's agent contacted me and we talked about setting up a publicity even for Mebane. See, Mebane is my favorite player and I think in some way I helped to spread the word about him. He is not my favorite player because I know him or want to know him. He is not my favorite player because I think he is among the best players in the NFL or even the best player on the Seahawks defense. He is my favorite player because he is good, and appreciating that he is good takes a little work and a little knowledge. Appreciating Mebane's ability helped me learn more about the game of football.
The problem is, at least within the arc of his current career, Mebane's best season is now two years past. Mebane was excellent in 2008. John Marshall used him as the one-tech complement to three-tech Rocky Bernard. I think it was sort of an unexpected success, which was part of the fun. Mebane substituted for an injured Chuck Darby and outclassed the aged veteran. He never relinquished the job. Despite playing three tech throughout college, Mebane's mix of quick first step, hand fighting, effort and, well, size and shape made him the rare run stuffer that could make plays in the backfield, collapse the pocket and even sack the quarterback.
His success led to Mebane taking over as Bernard's replacement at three tech. 2009 was a down season. Mebane could disrupt, but some of the bugaboos scouts tagged him with coming out of college resurfaced: he doesn't have great closing burst, isn't particularly fluid or agile and doesn't make many plays in space. Carroll replaced Mora, but defensive line coach Dan Quinn and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley were retained. Mebane became an under tackle. He worked mostly from the weak side in 2010 as part of a 3+1 line. He put on some weight so as to compensate for the Leo end. It was a better fit, but still not as good a fit, and I worry not a good enough fit to make the scheme work.
When Mebane broke in, he was a fourth pass rusher. Both ends were primary pass rushers. Bernard was 50-50. He could force a double team. He could make a play against the rusher. When it was a pass, he would attack a gap and pass rush. Mebane handled the dirty work. He was doubled more often than any other Seahawks lineman. He was tasked with the unenviable duty of withstanding consistent double teams. He, in all his awesomeness, regularly was able to fight back and fight through those double teams and make plays in the backfield. But he wasn't tasked with being a primary pass rusher. Mebane offered found pass rush from a position that didn't emphasize pass rush, and that more than anything is what I learned to love about his game.
As an under tackle though in the Leo system, Mebane is one of two players that must be counted on to provide pressure from a base defense. Colin Cole and Red Bryant collapse and control to their abilities. Cole is pretty much a run stuffer only, but a quality two-gap tackle. Bryant, like many 3-4 ends, gives you a little bit of everything: collapsing the pocket, setting the edge, deflecting passing, making plays in space and recording coverage sacks. Neither player should be counted on to provide consistent pass rush. That's up to the Leo end and the under tackle. Chris Clemons did his job. Mebane, well, Mebane flashed a lot of the core abilities that made him interesting in the first place, but just didn't create pressure consistently, and didn't consummate what pressure he created with quarterback hits and sacks. Mebane had a career low one sack and one quarterback hit in 2010. In 2008, he had 5.5 sacks and 18 quarterback hits.
Each system has its premium positions. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher returning from injury and the signing of right defensive end Julius Peppers transformed the Bears defense from 22nd ranked in 2009 to fifth ranked in 2010. In some ways, we're still figuring out what the Leo system is and what it needs to work. But after a year (and in some ways two) of breaking down tape and thinking and testing my guesses, it seems to me that Seattle's premium line position isn't end, Leo or strongside. It isn't over tackle. It's the position manned by Brandon Mebane. This player must be stout against the run and, specifically, able to tie up blockers. He must be quick off the snap and able to make plays in the back field. But the biggest requirement, the requirement that makes it a premium position and not easy to fill, is that the under tackle must also be a great pass rusher. Otherwise, on too many snaps, pass rush is dependent on the Leo end. That's far too easy to game plan around and far too liable to break down and leave a pass rush toothless.
So though Mebane is still my favorite player, and a very good player, and though Mebane is a valuable free agent to a team in need of a Darby-style run plugger that also disrupts and creates pass rush (Chicago and Indianapolis spring to mind), I do not think he is a great fit for the Seahawks system and that system's requirements. Depending on his asking price, Mebane could still make sense as a rotational tackle. Every team that rotates its front four needs quality depth or else risks its second team unit being run over (See: Frank Gore, 2008 divisional round against Green Bay), but, well, here comes my corrupted side: does Mebane want to be a rotational tackle? He's better than that, and deserves to start. Maybe that's not my corrupted side. Maybe that's what little humanity I preserve from my Seahawks fandom.
Maybe Seattle signs him and attempts to overcome its pass rush limitations through scheme and by drafting developmental talent. Maybe Kentwan Balmer develops. He is, from a very broad tools perspective, a better fit. Most likely, I think, Seattle makes a play for someone like Albert Haynesworth, Shaun Rogers, Johnny Jolly or drafts a prospect like Marvin Austin or Kenrick Ellis. It may need a rare specimen at under tackle to make this defense go, but it just so happens a few of the best may be available.